Friday, February 13, 2009

Upstate becomes powerless

From the 16 February 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

The New York Power Authority’s mission hasn’t changed much through the years. The Authority was created for the purpose of developing the economy through affordable electricity and they say that to this day NYPA holds true to that cause. In one of its recent annual reports the organization’s mission statement began with this prose: “We will retain and create jobs in New York State by: Facilitating the transition to competitive energy costs; Mitigating the cost of energy to business, to government and to consumers throughout the State…”

Many a person has said the Authority has failed to live up to that cause, citing the still-high electrical rates in Upstate New York, rates which rank amongst the highest in the nation and account for the mass exodus of manufacturers from this region. When such accusations surface, which is quite often, NYPA goes on the defensive and touts their various cost-savings programs like Replacement Power or Power For Jobs.

One cannot help but turn a deaf ear to such propaganda after seeing how the Authority repeatedly sells out to downstate, furthering Upstate’s demise. The naysayers have been right time and time again, and current developments have shown NYPA deviating from its core mission once again, thanks to some nudging from the state legislature.

In an early-February vote both houses voted to sweep (take) funds from NYPA as a part of the Three Men In a Room’s deficit reduction plan. This plan, in essence, is the legislature’s way of absolving itself of the tough responsibility of making cuts and streamlining operations. They found it easier to decrease the impact of their overspending by creatively finding revenues elsewhere. So, they voted to take an extra $476 million from NYPA’s reserves and put it into the State’s coffers. That brings NYPA’s total contribution to the state coffers to $771 million over the next two budget years.

We’ve always been told that we have no control over state authorities because they are, in theory, self-standing business units accountable to no one. But, somehow, NYPA rolled over quite easily for the legislature and willingly gave up those funds after brief debate. Their kitty, by going into the general fund, will end up in the NYC Metro area where a great majority of the budget funds typically go. This is a major bloodletting of the upstate region for it has been proven many a time that NYPA’s profits come mostly from the Niagara Power Project. So, once again, we’ve been sold out.

This is money that could have been better spent elsewhere. Not to be parochial, but that elsewhere is here. And, there’s a way by which it could have been spent which would have held true to NYPA’s mission of making cheap power available. According to State studies, were those swept funds to be used instead as a power subsidy, every small business in Upstate New York would see a two-cent per kilowatt hour reduction in their power bills, good for two years as we weather the recession. Those savings would be significant, and key to maintaining the economic viability of many a firm. That small token would save my company over $150,000 per year. As I noted in my column two weeks back, my company pays $496,500 more than what our competitors in Ohio would for electricity. The savings would help cut into that competitive disadvantage faced by many. That’s the shot in the arm our local economy needs.

But, unfortunately, NYPA has other plans for the upstate populace…and so do other folks. As much as NYPA may have sold us out to the downstate interests, so did some of our local elected officials. It should be noted that Senator Antoine Thompson and Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte - both of whom have the Niagara Power Project in their districts’ backyards and report to constituents in the once grand Niagara Falls manufacturing corridor that needs the cheap power - voted in favor of taking the money away from NYPA. These are the same individuals who tout the importance of the Project and keeping its power and money in WNY where it belongs. In the end though, it seems that their allegiance to party was stronger than their allegiance to people and principle.

With elected officials and bureaucrats so willing to give away what few assets our area has left, we’re left with – and will always be left with - nothing. And, because of that, no matter how hard we as taxpayers, workers, and businessmen might try, we can’t gain much ground because the odds are truly stacked against us. It’s no wonder the Niagara Frontier is in such great decline.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

New York now operates as a feudal society- Albany and NYC are the Lords of the Manor- and all of us in WNY are the serfs..